Transfer hijack! How United beat Liverpool to a star signing
It’s always nice to get one over on your arch-rivals and Manchester United have done that often enough in games against Liverpool over the years.
But did you know that we also got the better of the Merseysiders when it came to signing one of our stars of the 1970s? Lou Macari was on the verge of putting pen to paper for Liverpool – then managed by the legendary Bill Shankly – when a timely intervention from another Scottish icon persuaded him to sign on the dotted line at Old Trafford instead.
Lou himself took up the story in an episode of UTD Podcast, starting with how he asked Jock Stein for a wage increase at Celtic.
“I went in and told him my father had died and I was having to support my mother now,” said Macari.
“How I plucked up the courage to go in, to this day I still don't know. But I did. I had to because I needed more money on my contract if I wasn't going to be offered enough.
“Jock told me I would be getting an extra five pounds per week on my wages and that was it. So I said, 'Look, I need to support my mother, I can't be having a fiver.'
“That was it, there was no more money being offered, so I said 'I'm off.' I knew I could get more in England, because I'd been around players [who played for English clubs] in the Scotland team.
“I sat at home for a couple of weeks, after training every day. I was looking at the phone, praying for it to ring. I was hoping someone would know I was available, but I didn't know how the system worked. I had no agent and no one there to support me.
“The phone did ring one night and it was the manager, Jock. He said, 'Get ready, you're going to England in the morning'. Then he put the phone down on me.
“‘Where are you going?’ my wife said.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, he never told me.’
Macari, then 23, jumped in a car the next morning to travel down to England.
Passing places like Carlisle, Blackburn and Burnley, he began to ponder about where he was being taken, especially when he was told he’d be spending the night in Southport, home to a club then struggling in the lower reaches of the Football League.
To Macari’s relief, though, the party moved on the next day, further into Merseyside, where we dip back into the tale…
“I arrive at Liverpool FC,” recalled Macari.
“I have five or six minutes to digest in my mind how I got here and I realise Stein and Shankly are the best of pals, big friends, similar backgrounds, top managers and before I know it, I’m in Bill Shankly’s office.
“He's seen me play, likes me, says all the things I'd like to hear and then says, 'I'm going to pay you £180 a week.' What happened when you got transferred in those days was you got 5 per cent of the fee. I was going to be going for £180,000 and I’m quickly working out I’m £9,000 richer for that journey from my home to Liverpool.
“Shankly had to go because they were playing that night, so he went to the dressing room and I went to the director’s box. This guy walked in 10 minutes late for the game and sat down. It was Pat Crerand.
“There's nothing wrong with Pat Crerand being late, he’s always late, as you know. We looked at each other and said: what you doing here? So I told Pat, 'I've just been brought down here. I'm signing for Liverpool.'
“‘You're not signing for Liverpool, you're signing for Man United,’ he says.
“‘But you're not in charge Pat?
“‘Right now, I'm in charge.’”
Macari didn’t know if his fellow countryman was joking or not.
A quick telephone call later, however, and it became apparent how deadly serious he was.
UTD Podcast: Macari always answers the phoneVideo
“You know Pat, he's not one for giving up. At half-time he phoned up [then United manager] Tommy Docherty, who said he wanted me. And I'm thinking, I'm not signing for Liverpool. I'm signing for Man United.
“But I had to go back and tell the Liverpool manager, who is ferocious, no nonsense, who doesn't mess around, that I'm not going to sign for Liverpool. How do I do it!?
“I’m a Man United fan. I knew George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton. I knew George Best was the best player I was ever going to see. I don’t care what they’re doing. They might be fifth-bottom of the league, but they’ve got those three and I’ve got to be training with them next week.
“I went back to Shankly's office and I lied, I've got to be honest. I said I need time to think about it.
“Next morning, I was going to head up north to Glasgow, meet up with Paddy and the Doc and sign for United.
“The fee went up because it was United, up to £200,000, which meant an extra thousand for me!”
Access more incredible tales from a galaxy of United stars in the UTD Podcast series.